Updated: Nov 12
We have all heard that Pilates is magical, but what exactly are these claims, and do they hold water? Like any fitness industry topic, Pilates is not immune to clever marketing tactics. I will dive into six common Pilates myths (in my opinion) that you will encounter as a possible Pilates student.
Common Pilates Myths
1) It's Only for Women
Pilates was designed by a man, Joseph Pilates, and meant to create control in your body no matter your gender. His work was based on three principles: Breath, whole-body health, and whole-body commitment, with the whole-body encompassing mind, body, and spirit.
But somewhere along the way, this magical system was marketed to the masses, and it became a woman-dominated practice to "tone" your muscles without using heavy dumbbells. But it is far more than just a workout for women.
Many pro athletes practice Pilates, and it's been used as rehab for many team sports. NBA players like LeBron James, Jason Kidd, and James Harden, to name a few, love Pilates. Chicago Bulls player Jimmy Butler told People Magazine, "Pilates is something different. It doesn't involve a basketball. You don't have to run a million sprints, and you still can get a full-body workout from it. I think Pilates is an incredible workout."
Honestly, I've worked with many male clients, and the amount of benefits Pilates has for men is remarkable, even if they are not pro athletes. It helps men slow down and create a mind-body connection, as well as adding more control and precision to their movement. They often explain how much body control that carries over into their weight training. This mind-body connection is like gold for men once they step back into a traditional gym setting.
2) Pilates Is Just Like Yoga
Pilates has specific exercises to increase strength and mobility while improving your posture, mobility of your spine, and the mind-body connection. Yes, both Yoga and Mat Pilates are practiced on a mat and can both condition the body with body weight, but they are not the same.
In fact, Joseph Pilates studied Yoga and Tai Chi as well as martial arts and Zen meditation. On the other hand, Yoga has been around for five thousand years and has asanas (postures) repeated in a sequence in various Yoga styles.
For many consumers, it looks the same from the outside in as you wouldn't know the difference unless you were familiar with the traditional Pilates exercises versus Yoga postures.
I love Yoga for the meditative qualities it can bring to my movement practice. But Pilates, practiced on a mat is a full-body conditioning system with more emphasis on exercise and muscle focus than meditative effects.
3) Pilates Creates Long, Lean Muscles
I've been practicing Pilates for over 24 years, and I cannot tell you how many times I've heard this claim from every instructor I've had. It's completely false. First, there is no physical way to increase the length of the muscles that turn into tendons that attach to your bones. Shocking, I know.
Your muscles are designed the way they are, and the shape of muscles varies per person. The verbiage of "long lean muscles" that is being used leads people to believe that Pilates will give you a different aesthetic quality as well as an entirely longer muscle. Second, to achieve any lean look where we see our muscles, we must address body fat percentage as a whole as well as build muscle.
This all stems back to the fact that the dance community has practiced Pilates for over 100 years. According to the Pilates Method Alliance, "By the late 30s, New York City had become a mecca for dancers. During this era, Pilates developed a reputation for his ability to "fix" dancers' injuries. Many dancers, including luminaries such as George Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Hanya Holm, studied with "Uncle Joe" and referred injured colleagues to him."
But because of this dance community that Joseph Pilates worked with, it became a well-known practice for future dancers. Many dancers have an aesthetic quality in how they carry themselves and physically being strong and lean by nature.
This is highly misleading to tell the everyday mother of 3 kids that they will have long lean muscles if they practice Pilates once a week. It's pure marketing to get you in the door so you can fall in love with the real reasons Pilates is so magical. Now you know that this too is a common Pilates myth. Don't be fooled by the aesthetic claims, but know that you will find the body control and mind-body connection to make your aesthetic goals more straightforward to achieve with practice.
4) Pilates Is Only Abdominal Exercises
This is a pervasive Pilates myth. Pilates is a full-body practice. Each exercise teaches us to move from our "powerhouse." I like to think of your powerhouse as a tree trunk and your limbs as the branches. If your trunk is solid and mobile, the branches' connection is stronger and more connected; therefore, they are not flailing around aimlessly.
Pilates focuses on creating a solid foundation using deep core muscles of the abs, back, pelvic floor, and inner thighs. In turn, many exercises require you to engage more than just your abs to maintain the exercise and control your body. Certain exercises are specific to isolating a muscle group. Still, it takes the ability to use other muscles to control the joints and create that isolation in whichever shape your body is in.
5) Pilates Makes You Super Flexible
Let me first define the difference between mobility and flexibility. Mobility is the ability to control and utilize ranges of motion from your joints actively. On the other hand, flexibility is the ability to passively achieve extended ranges of motion like sitting in the splits. Flexibility and mobility work together to add control to your ranges of motion. Unfortunately, this also gets looped into the six common Pilates myths.
Because Pilates teaches us to move with either isometric contraction of our muscles or using resistance with the springs, we are actively controlling our ranges of motion and not in any way passively. This is also a great lesson to rehab after an injury, balancing out your aesthetics, or even moving better overall. For a Pilates spine flexibility and mobility routine check this one from my YouTube Channel.
For example, if you imagine someone doing a lunge stretch on the mat and are "sinking" into the stretch and not connecting their body to the position, they are passively stretching. The benefits of this are not long-lasting because they don't connect us to our central nervous system, which determines what a safe range of motion is, and then our ability to recreate it using our strength isn't possible.
If we are not active in our position by applying isometric controlled resistance, bodyweight, or using springs, our joints will not gain any long-lasting increased ranges of motion. The more force the tissues inside the joint and muscles that move the joint can absorb, the less likely it is to be injured. This is why Pilates is significant to anyone rehabbing an injury and regaining the range of motion in their body. I'll dive deeper into mobility in another post.
6) Pilates is Easy
Ok, this can't be further from the truth. This is by far one of the biggest common Pilates myths. Again I have been practicing Pilates for over 24 years, and if it was easy, I wouldn't still be doing it. The main reason people think it's easy is due to poor instruction. If you are in a group class and the instructor is not coming around and giving you actual feedback and cues to really feel the work, then yeah, you might be passively moving in your body, missing the entire exercise.
I remember asking a potential client why they didn't like Pilates. Her answer was, "I tried it once, and it was just boring and too easy. I didn't sweat at all". So, sweating is not the number one indicator of whether a workout will bring you benefits. That is just the fitness industry pushing no pain on gains down our throats while we search for ways to change our physique.
But If you think that the only way to progress is to sweat and ideally burn calories, let me enlighten your fitness scope. Real work is more than sweating. If you can show me that you can hold a position and not falter with external forces against you only by using body weight, that alone shows me you have so much control over your own body.
Now, how does that apply to real life? If you find yourself in a position where you are compromised by maybe slipping, losing your balance, or any activity that requires focus. You will be so thankful you practice Pilates and feel how much you can control your body in space in real-life situations. I can't tell you how many clients have told me stories where their practice carried over to real-life circumstances and how their mind-body connection helped them get out of it or mitigate it.
Wrapping Up Pilates Myths
The industry is flooded with so many myths it makes me a little crazy, to say the least. I made a short video on my Instagram page all about these six common Pilates myths, hopefully to make you laugh. But now you know what Pilates is and why you should try it yourself. You won't regret it.